Would You Pass the Pencil Pickup Test?

I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life long-term. And anyone who tries to help me always asks the same question, “Well, what are you passionate about?” Yeah… I can see why you’d ask that, but I just think the chances are really slim that my answer to that question is going to connect directly with a career. What are you really expecting me to say?

“Well, Sally, I’m really passionate at looking at the big picture, making a list of action items and deadlines to achieve that big picture, and tracking them in Microsoft Access.”

“Omg, that’s perfect, you should be a project manager!!!”

“On the other hand, I’ve also always had this nagging feeling that I want to prepare profit and loss monthly statements, analyze budgets and review them, and compile other financial information.”

“What a coincidence, that is literally what accountants do, you’d love it!”

If it were that obvious, I wouldn’t be in this situation. I’m not a total idiot. “Gosh, I’m so passionate about helping sick people, I just don’t know how to translate that into a career!”

The things I’m passionate about aren’t real jobs. For example, I’m passionate about telling it like it is with a hint of sarcasm and caustic bitchiness. So I’d be great for a job where I stand at the entrance of an office building and harangue people who come in to work dressed inappropriately.

“Elastic-waist jeans…on a Tuesday? Retire. Now. You have obviously stopped trying.”

“You, in the short skirt, come here. Pick up this pencil I just dropped…. And I just saw your ass, you fail the Pencil Pickup Test! Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 dollars. Just go back to the gentlemen’s club from whence you came.”


The Pencil Pickup Test – I think you know who’s failing here


“Hey, yeah you pal, in the skinny leg khakis and grandpa sweater. This is an office, not a Fall Out Boy sound check. I don’t want to know what your calves are shaped like, get out of here with that.”

“Hey girl, love that sweater you are wearing – is that a gun with bullets coming out of it? Super edgy. But hey, given the shootings that happen like…every week…maybe that’s not the most work appropriate outfit. Maybe you can go home, pull your head out of your ass, and make a less ridiculous wardrobe choice, mmkay?”

To my knowledge, this job doesn’t exist, but it isn’t a bad idea. I’ve seen some wildly inappropriate outfits at work, but not once have I seen a manager reprimand someone for them. Because that is a very uncomfortable talk for a boss to have. “Candy, now I don’t know much about women’s shoes, but I think what you’re wearing are literally called ‘stripper heels.’ I heard somewhere that only sex workers wear clear plastic heels that are six inches high. We sell insurance here, not our bodies, so I’m going to have to ask you to change.”

Whether it’s telling someone she is dressed like a slut, or giving negative performance reviews, or firing someone, nobody likes to deliver the hard news. But I will do it. I volunteer for this dirty work.



I could be an Efficient Feedback Delivery Specialist – aka blunt bad news bitch.

“Kathy, word on the street is you sleep at your desk all fucking day. I don’t know why in the world we’d pay you for that, so…you’re fired. Obviously. Okay, good talk, take care!”

“Tammy, your numbers are great, but nobody likes that you shout orders at them from down the hall and around the corner, so you’re getting a ‘Fails to Meet Expectations’ for Communication this year. For next year, try to be less of a lazy bitch.”

It would be awesome.

What is your dream job that may or may not exist?

Interviews: How to Put Your Best Foot Forward (and Not in Your Mouth)

Reflecting upon my recent interviews, I realized, I am either getting better at this, or interviews are getting easier. To be honest, I think they are getting easier. The last few I’ve had I just had to smile and listen. I barely even spoke, which might be why they went so well. I’m sure I am also getting better at them, but that isn’t saying much. I am so epically terrible at interviews, I had nowhere to go but up. Let’s take a brief tour through my Interview Hall of Shame as I share some of the tips I’ve learned over the years.

One of my very first interviews ever was my admissions interview with a Duke alum:

“So, you have been working at the FDA. Are you interested in science?”

“No, not really.” I apparently felt no need to elaborate.

Tip #1: Interview questions are very rarely meant as ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions.

“…so why do you work there?”

“You know, a job is a job.” Gotta get them dolla dolla bills, ya feel me?

Tip #2: You don’t have to lie, but you don’t have to be brutally honest either. You win no points for being frank and indifferent.

Though she had probably already written me off, the interview went on.

“I see you write for the school paper. What are some articles you have written?”

“Well, I just wrote this one about ideas for Valentine’s gifts as an alternative to flowers and chocolates. Like, if your girlfriend really likes cheese, you could get her a block of cheese. And other stuff… I don’t remember.”


“Yeah, it was funnier in the article. You had to be there.”

I could tell, she was not impressed.

Tip #3: Don’t talk about cheese in an interview. No matter what your favorite movies tell you, cheese is not a good ice breaker.

Image credit: www.tumblr.com

Image credit: http://www.tumblr.com

Years later I had a similarly unpleasant interview for an HR analyst job. I think. I am not sure now what it was for, nor was I ever, which was a big part of why the interview failed. I got on the phone and really just had no idea what this lady was talking about. I very haphazardly bs-ed my way through her questions and most of my answers sounded a lot like this:

Image credit: www.fanpop.com

Image credit: http://www.fanpop.com

I wasn’t even prepared for the most obvious question of all: “What interested you about this job?” Woah, didn’t see that one coming! I don’t remember what lie I eventually came up with as my answer, but nothing is convincing after a long pause and an “uhhhhhhh.”

Tip #4: Always be prepared to answer obvious said question. Also, know what job you are being interviewed for.

Around that time, to pay the bills while I was job hunting, I got a part-time job at Pottery Barn Kids. Luckily, I had learned my lesson and knew to anticipate that sneaky “Why do you want this job?” question. When asked, I answered, “It’s close to my house….yeah, that’s pretty much it.” Nailed it!

Image credit: go.lawlogix.com

Image credit: go.lawlogix.com

I had learned from Tip #3, but had already forgotten Tip #1: nobody needs to know what you really think. I still got the job, but my manager later told me that she didn’t want to hire me. Sounds about right.

Shortly after that, I finally got my head on straight and managed to make it through an interview without making a total ass of myself. Until the last question.

“What are you passionate about?”

Um, I’m sorry, what? I’m not one of those people who is ‘passionate’ about things. I’m passionate about not leaving the toilet paper roll empty. I’m passionate about not wearing leggings as pants and other inappropriate wardrobe choices. I’m passionate about dogs and people respecting my personal space. But if you expect me to come up with a real answer here where I talk about my ambitions or hobbies…

Image credit: www.tumblr.com

Image credit: http://www.tumblr.com

I got nothin. Now at this point, a lot of time has passed. A lot more than is necessary to answer a very simple question about my interests. She was tossing me a softball here. This was not supposed to be the ‘stump her’ question. The interviewer had a look on her face like, “Did I say something wrong? Did I break her?” because I’m looking at her like she has just uncovered my darkest secret.

So it’s time to spring into action. I start thinking of an answer. Can I say TV? I love my TV shows? No that is extremely pathetic and lame. Should I say world peace? No, God, this isn’t Miss America. What does she want to hear, volunteering? Training for marathons? Finally I just blurted something out to put us all out of our misery.

Tip #5: It is great to think about your answer, but at a certain point, you need to just say something, anything. Because the longer you spend thinking, the better the end result should be, and after a certain period of extended silence, you hit a point of diminishing returns. You just aren’t going to be able to live up to the expectations you’ve created, so it’s best to just cut your losses and give the best answer you have at the time. And as long as the answer isn’t “nah” or “cheese,” you should be okay.

What are some of your interview lessons learned, worst interview questions and answers, or other interview horror stories? Please do share, and make me feel like less of an idiot:)